Earlier this year, Team ELS had an opportunity to interview Monique Helstrom, speaker, activator, and un-locker of human potential, on effective communication. She will be a featured speaker at our ELS: Back in Boston Forum taking place later this year. Monique is a powerhouse communicator and has had unparalleled experiences and gained unique perspectives from thought leaders, executives, celebrities, educators, and the general workforce.
Having always been an insatiable achiever, and voraciously full of charm, Monique found it difficult to relate to others who didn’t operate at 120 mph like she did (and vice versa!). After some jarring “life lessons,” Monique has now decided to dedicate her life to helping others understand their own unique role in making great ideas – and great partnerships – come to life.
Today, Monique joins us from Denver, Colorado. Team ELS is super excited to offer its followers a chance to learn more about Monique and how she has evolved into the person she is today.
Hello Monique! Thank you for giving Team ELS the opportunity to speak with you today! For those in our audience who are new to the powerhouse that is Monique Helstrom, can you tell us a little about yourself?
MH: Sure! I am a self proclaimed type “A”. I am a speaker, an activator, and an unlocker of human potential! I have always been a type “A”. I was an event planner. I have always been in a logistical type of job. I was always in a logistical type of position where I was always the “how” to somebody’s “why”. If somebody wanted to get something done, if somebody wanted to produce something, there was always an idea to start off with and I have the ability to make something out of nothing. That’s kind of my superpower and something I’ve been doing my entire life.
I worked with the self-proclaimed “why guy” (Simon Sinek, NY Times Best-Selling author and TED celebrity). I was the “how girl” to the “why guy”. I really helped him figure out how to bring his “why” to life and how to express that into the world. I was the person behind the scenes, tinkering, making sure that he was where he needed to be. Technically, my title was “Chief of Simon” because that was exactly what I did. I ran his life, but I wasn’t his wife. I was his executive assistant. I was his producer. I helped him grow. That’s what I did for almost a decade.
ELS: What have you been up to over the last few years? Where are you right now?
MH: Well, physically I’m in Denver. I am excited for the new year! I am excited for what this year is going to bring! I’m not usually someone who’s big into New Year’s resolutions because I want to encourage everyone to continue to evolve as the year progresses, not just once a year.
But there is something about a new year that makes you want to think of things in a fresh light, see things in a fresh light. It’s always a good opportunity to do so.
ELS: What brings you to Denver?
MH: Well, I had a couple of teammates that worked here when I was working with Simon. I was in Philly at the time – I’m a Philadelphia native. I was flying back and forth from Philadelphia to Denver for a project. Out here everyone is so happy and it’s 300 days of sunshine. When you walk down the street, everyone says hello to you and I’m like, what is going on? (I’m a jaded Philly girl). So I was like, wow, it’s a different lifestyle. There was something that drew me out here. In my life, when something’s pulling me, I jump in and do it! So, I packed up all of my belongings, left my entire family in Philadelphia, moved to Denver and have been here for about 3 years, 3 and a half years.
ELS: What has your transition been like?
MH: I was still working with Simon when I moved out here, so I was traveling like crazy and really didn’t have time to get my feet into the ground and really plant myself here. Then the pandemic hit and everything got wiped out and I had simultaneously left Simon’s organization, so I wasn’t traveling as much. So while the transition was easy in the beginning, it’s been hard the last two years because it’s been difficult to make friends. So, it’s been a little bit of a solo-riding.
ELS: You’re thriving now, focused on teaching others about communication. Can you tell us a little more about that? How did you come to be so passionate about communication?
MH: So communication, honestly, is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I’ve always felt like I was misunderstood. I’ve always felt like somebody misheard me. Knowing what I wanted to say, but not knowing how to say it. Knowing that I needed to have a hard conversation but not wanting it to end in disaster. Finding myself in fights with family over and over and over again about the same thing. It was something that I really struggled with. I wanted to be more understood and heard. So, I went through my journey in school and nobody teaches you how to communicate in school, which is a disgusting fact to me, that no one teaches you how to communicate.
Then, when I went to college, there was a major for communication and I was like, this is perfect, I’m going to major in communications. I’m going to get my degree and really learn how to communicate to the outside world. But even then, at George Washington University, a very prominent school, that teaching wasn’t as practical as I wanted it to be. It really didn’t teach me how to have hard conversations, how to speak to be heard, or how to actively listen. It was more theoretical, talking about people in history who have communicated well. I thought, well that’s not teaching me how to have a hard conversation with my significant other. How do I do that?
So, I went on my journey and started to read. I started to learn. I started to listen to TED talks and do all the research that I needed to do in order to understand what I was missing. What my exploration into this world showed me was that I was not the only one having this problem, so it’s kind of ubiquitous. Every time I talked to someone about learning a great communication tip about how to have a hard conversation, they were like, you have to tell me about it, I don’t know how to do that!
Over and over again, I just kept hearing the same thing. It was something that people didn’t know how to do. So, I added a keynote here and there. I added in some social media posts. Then, it was something that just took off. Now I have a number of keynotes about it. I have a three-hour workshop. I have two online courses. One is just about to come out in a couple of weeks; it’s about hard conversations.
I just think that communication is one of the biggest factors in the success or failure in your life. It is the most important thing. It helps us connect with other people. It helps us function in society. It helps us build relationships with other human beings. It helps us build teams and collaborate. It is fundamentally what changes us as human beings, our ability to communicate. So, it’s a huge passion of mine.
I talk a lot about the skills of how to communicate as a human being, what we need to do, and how we need to put our conversations together. It all starts with you, learning about who you are and what your tendencies are, what your personality traits are like, how you usually communicate, and where you run into problems. It’s really self-identifying first, learning where you need help. Then, once we know about ourselves, we have to know about the people who we are surrounding ourselves with, and how they react, and their tendencies. What are their strengths and weaknesses?
From there we can learn skills, but first we have to know who we are and who the other person is. Then we can start talking about the skills of how to communicate as humans. I also talk about listening skills, how to actively listen; that is an entire section I could probably do a keynote on, knowing how to just sit and listen. It’s just an incredibly lost art these days. And then, hard conversations, that’s probably one of the most asked questions that I get these days, how to have those difficult conversations. Everything from, how do I have a difficult conversation with my mother, brother, sister, or partner to how do I have an annual review at work and how do I give someone that type of feedback. Those are the things that I touch upon.
ELS: Can you tell us about a time that you had a communication challenge and how you handled it?
MH: Sure! All of my personality tests told me that I am a dominant, blunt individual, and I knew this in my head, but I didn’t know it in my gut, in the intermediate center of my belly. I also didn’t know how it affected other people. So, what I used to do was go into meetings with my team and I would run it the way that I liked to have meetings, like an army sergeant. My father is an army sergeant and that was all I knew. We only have an hour, let’s go, let’s go, bullet, bullet, bullet, bullet. No, I don’t want to hear about what you did over the weekend.
Then, a new person at work, a new person at Simon’s organization said to me, you know you’re really scary in meetings. She used the word scary. I was like, ha ha, and then I was like, wait a second. I sat down and what she told me really affected me. That’s when you realize what you’re doing and how that affects other people. It’s very jarring to know, especially if it’s in the negative tense. She said, you know some people just don’t like you coming in and barking orders at them and it took me back enough to realize that I needed to do something about it.
So again, looking into my personality style, looking into who I was as a human being, what my tendencies were, I now know that when I’m stressed and when I have a lot on my plate, I do tend to move fast. I do tend to bark orders, do tend to speak high and and loud, and with arm gestures and whatnot. So now, I realize when I’m going into a room full of people who may be more relationship-building types of people than I am, I realize I have to flex my personality in order to motivate people, in order to onboard them, in order to onboard them to my cause, instead of barking orders. So, that was a very jarring experience for me. It changed me fundamentally and how I reacted to others, and how I approached meetings.
ELS: Can you tell us more about your online course on effective communication?
MH: The course is Introduction to Effective Communication. This course is a journey to better relationships with family and friends, to increased productivity at work, to stress-free conversations with coworkers (and superiors!), and most importantly, the journey to sophisticated self-expression. This course is 20 of my favorite and most-often-asked-about actionable tips for effective communication, some of which include:
- A way to increase your teams’ motivation and output
- Executive communication skills
- How to have healthy conflict
- How to manage your stress level
- The secrets to collaboration, team building, and therefore, productivity
- How to confidently communicate your needs to superiors and subordinates alike
- How to finally express yourself with confidence and clarity
It’s just over an hour of useful, actionable, and realistic tips. It offers easily consumable short, no-nonsense videos and includes a 75-page workbook full of information and exercises.
ELS: Wow, that’s great, Monique! Your course sounds amazing and I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there who will benefit from it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and give us some insight on your experiences and how to achieve effective communication. We can’t wait for your presentation and effective communication tips at our ELS Forum in Boston later this year.